A Royal Affair

Screened at the 2012 Telluride Film Festival.

In 18th century Denmark, the ideas of the Enlightenment struggle against the entrenched interests of the Church and aristocracy. The lecherous, mentally ill king (Mikkel Boe Folsgaard) has married a bookish English princess (Alicia Vikander) and befriended the freethinking royal physician (Mads Mikkelsen). The doctor and the queen launch a passionate love affair — and also team up to influence the clueless monarch, who begins to rapidly liberalize the nation to the chagrin of the nobles at Court.

A Royal Affair stakes out some interesting ground in its second hour, having to do with the practical limitations of unfettered idealism and the ethics of using a crazy person you mostly despise to further your good intentions. It features Mads Mikkelsen in the most straightforwardly positive role I’ve ever seen him in, and he turns out to have an expressive impassiveness to rival Ryan Gosling’s. It’s also, alas, precisely the sort of stultifying costume drama the title suggests, gorgeous, stuffy, and drawn-out, filled with klutzy historical exposition (“You’re quite a mystery Streunsee. Your father is one of the most conservative priests in the nation, yet you spend your time writing surprisingly provocative tracts advocating for the most dangerous new ideas of the Enlightenment!”), scenes of people loudly demanding that other people sign things, etc. If you’ve the patience to stick it out, there’s eventually worthwhile stuff on offer, but be warned.

-- Eugene Novikov

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Screening Log

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